Washington: One of President Barack Obama`s top advisers suggested to a Colorado Democrat that he forgo a primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet and instead apply for one of three international development jobs.
The disclosure came just days after the White House admitted orchestrating a job offer in the Pennsylvania Senate race with the similar goal of avoiding a messy or divisive Democratic primary.
The back-room deals — former President Bill Clinton led the Pennsylvania effort and White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina worked with former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff — called into question Obama`s repeated promises to run an open government.
Romanoff said in a statement Wednesday night that he was contacted by Messina last fall and told that the White House would support Bennet in the primary. When he said he would seek the nomination anyway, Messina "suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race," Romanoff said. "He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions."
Romanoff added: "At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina`s assistance in obtaining one."
Earlier Wednesday, a White House official insisted nothing inappropriate or illegal took place but didn`t provide the details Romanoff offered in his statement and a copy of an e-mail he had received from Messina.
"Mr. Romanoff was recommended to the White House from Democrats in Colorado for a position in the administration," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said. "There were some initial conversations with him, but no job was ever offered."
Yet even the appearance of trading taxpayer-funded jobs to ease an ally`s political path left questions for an administration that was the most transparent in history.
Messina, a tough-minded veteran of Senate politics and one of the president`s best fixers, spoke with Romanoff on Sept. 11, 2009, and suggested that Romanoff might better use his time at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Messina sent Romanoff job descriptions for three positions: an administrator for Latin America and Caribbean; the chief of the Office of Democracy and Governance; and the director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
Romanoff said he later left a message on Messina`s voice mail saying he would continue his Senate campaign.
The Colorado episode follows a similar controversy in Pennsylvania. An embarrassed White House admitted last Friday that it turned to Clinton last year to approach Rep. Joe Sestak about backing out of the primary in favor of an unpaid position on a federal advisory board.
Sestak declined the offer and defeated Sen. Arlen Specter late last month for the Democratic nomination after disclosing the job discussions. His supporters highlighted it as evidence of Sestak`s antiestablishment political credentials. He said last week he rejected Clinton`s feeler in less than a minute.
In a two-page report on the Sestak case, the White House counsel said the administration did nothing illegal or unethical.
Republicans have strongly criticized the offer to Sestak and challenged the White House`s ethics.
"Just how deep does the Obama White House`s effort to invoke Chicago-style politics for the purpose of manipulating elections really go?" said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who unsuccessfully sought a Justice Department investigation into Sestak and showed no sign of slowing.
"Clearly, Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff aren`t isolated incidents and are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of. Whatever the Obama brand use to stand for has been irrevocably shattered by the activities going on inside Barack Obama`s White House," Issa said.
Unlike Sestak, Romanoff had ducked questions on the subject until issuing his statement Wednesday night. Also unlike Sestak, Romanoff was out of office and looking for his next act after being forced from his job because of term limits.
Romanoff had sought appointment to the Senate seat that eventually went to Bennet, publicly griped he had been passed over and then discussed possible appointment possibilities inside the administration, one of the officials said.
After being passed over for the Senate appointment, the out-of-power Romanoff made little secret of shopping for a political job. Romanoff also applied to be Colorado secretary of state, a job that came open when Republican Mike Coffman was elected to Congress. Gov. Bill Ritter again appointed a replacement, and again passed over Romanoff.
Next, according to several Colorado Democrats speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal negotiations, Romanoff also approached Ritter about being Ritter`s running mate for Ritter`s re-election bid. It was only after that attempt failed, the Colorado Democrats said, that Romanoff joined the Senate contest.
Romanoff still wasn`t settled on the Senate race. When Ritter announced in January that he wouldn`t seek a second term after all, Romanoff publicly talked about leaving the Senate race to seek the governor`s office, though he ended up staying in the Senate contest.
Bennet has outpaced Romanoff in fundraising and support from Washington, although party activists attending the state party assembly last month favored the challenger by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. The primary is Aug. 10.
Bennet was appointed by Ritter to fill out the final two years of the term of Ken Salazar, who resigned to become interior secretary.